On an April evening in 1986, six men held a meeting in a home in Thorold, Ontario, and agreed to establish The City of Thorold Pipe Band, the first musical organization of its kind ever in the history of the city. They had been invited to this meeting by the home’s owner, Mr. James (Jimmy) V. Greig and his friend and pupil Mitchell McDowell. Establishing a pipe band in their hometown had long been a dream of Greig and McDowell, and both men were deeply gratified to see it begin to come to fruition.
All those present that night were experienced pipers, but none more so than Jimmy Greig, who learned his piping from the ground up during his service with one of the world’s most legendary infantry regiments, Scotland’s The Black Watch, The Royal Highland Regiment. Soon after the completion of his military service, Greig settled briefly in Canada before returning to Scotland and his native Edinburgh, where he joined that city’s police force and its famous pipe band.
The Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band was for many years one of the world’s most successful grade one competition pipe bands, with several World Pipe Band Championship titles to its credit, and the lessons Jimmy Greig learned during his years with this band were put to good use when he eventually returned to St. Catharines, Ontario. There he took on the mantel of Pipe Major with The Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band, which he had helped establish along with one of the pipe band world’s most talented side drummers, Mr. John Kirkwood, formerly of the renowned Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band of Scotland.
After many years at the helm of The Clan Pipe Major Greig decided to take a hiatus from the pressures of running one of the most successful pipe bands North America had ever known. However, shortly after his retirement from The Clan he suffered a nearly fatal aneurysm which prevented him from playing the bagpipes altogether for more than five years. Indeed, even after he was able to return to playing, another twenty years would pass before Pipe Major Greig went on parade again……….with The City of Thorold Pipe Band.
At the time that the band was created, many critics believed that its chances of success were slim at best. This was due to the fact that within the Niagara Region at that time there were already five established pipe bands, and the thought of another band being able to attract the requisite number of members to make it viable simply didn’t seem feasible. However, when word got out that Jimmy Greig was in charge, suddenly there was no dearth of volunteers.
Although Greig was the main driving force behind the creation of the band, he would be the first to admit that it takes more than one person to make a pipe band, especially a successful one. And in order to maintain a band and enable it to grow and overcome the obstacles and pitfalls that all such organizations face over time requires a team of very skilled and highly dedicated individuals. The City of Thorold Pipe Band has been blessed with many such people over the course of its existence; people that have ardently supported the band through the good years and the bad, giving freely of their time and talents to ensure that an idea that first became a reality nearly a quarter century ago would continue to flourish long after all of its original architects were gone.
The combined efforts of scores of dedicated pipers and drummers, their spouses, friends of the band and local supporters have enabled members of the City of Thorold Pipe Band to perform in Europe in the years 2000 and 2005, to produce and distribute a memorial c.d. in tribute to the late Pipe Major James V. Greig, and most importantly to entertain countless thousands of aficionados at parades and other venues throughout Canada and the United States.
The band is a truly eclectic organization in terms of its membership. Over the years policemen, truck drivers, paramedics, nurses, mechanics, accountants, school teachers, bagpipe makers, factory workers, professional scuba divers, firemen, business owners, Royal Marine Commandos, stationary engineers, electricians, students, millwrights, typesetters, fudge makers, professional pipers, Infantry Parachutists, roll turners, and even the occasional (but short-lived) ne’er-do-well……….have all worn the ancient MacGregor tartan and contributed, each in his or her own way, to the rich history of The City of Thorold Pipe Band and its continuing success.
Although fiercely independent and self-supporting from the time of its inception, the band readily acknowledges its debt to one organization in particular: Royal Canadian Legion Branch 17 in Thorold. From the very earliest days of its existence, the City of Thorold Pipe Band has held virtually all of its practices in the upstairs hall of the Legion, and 100% of its fund raising functions have been held there also. It can be stated without reservation that the band thinks of R.C.L. Branch 17 on Ormond Street as its home, and looks forward to continuing this mutually beneficial relationship for many more years to come.
As is bound to happen to any organization over the course of its life, The City of Thorold Pipe Band has experienced not only its fair share of triumphs, but has also endured some very difficult and trying times. During these darker periods however, a shared love of Scottish music, tradition, and the hackle-raising thrill that only playing in a pipe band can provide has always inspired its members to work together and find ways to continue to build a band they can be proud of. In short, a band that’s worth passing along to the next generation of pipers and drummers……………………when they’re ready.